It has been an odd year. With coronavirus making up the vast majority of headlines in both this paper and others across the country, it can be somewhat jarring to remember a time when we talked about anything else. Yet, in reviewing our coverage of the last year, we found that what was often discussed was not just coronavirus. However, coronavirus did make up a good number of articles and politics, acts of local heroism, and the need to create spaces where all residents could feel seen and heard.
As we ring in the new year, we review the past one; the issues that embroiled our town before the scope of the coronavirus pandemic became clear, during our early attempts to stall its spread, and in our current health crisis. In this series of articles, we’ll be reviewing 2020 through the eyes of The Reading Post, looking back at the headlines that grabbed our attention month by month of this insane, arduous, and seemingly never-ending year. So sit back, grab a snack, and review the stories of 2020.
In January, we were drawn to stories regarding our schools, new construction projects, and who would be a contender in the upcoming local election. From a proposed Superintendent extension to battles over new housing complexes, local politics took the forefront at the beginning of 2020 as the town prepared for the March 3rd local election.
At their first meeting of the new year, the School Committee apologized for completing a vote regarding a possible extension to Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Doherty’s contract during executive session.
“School Committee chair Chuck Robinson took full responsibility for ‘an error in open meeting law’ that the School Committee made at its December 19 meeting. Robinson admitted at a specially-called January 2 meeting that a School Committee vote regarding an extension of the superintendent’s contract by one year that was made in executive session ‘should have been done in open session.’ He also assured the public that the mistake ‘wasn’t done on purpose.’ Robinson continued stating that, according to counsel, the vote taken in executive session was not binding,” reported Kevin Vendt.
Robinson suggested that the committee move to postpone its vote until after the March 3rd election, concluding that the vote should be conducted by the new School Committee, which was due to have three new members. Committee member Linda Snow Dockser argued that the current committee should conduct the vote, believing that the vote should be conducted in a timely manner, and by a committee that has worked closely with Dr. John Doherty.
“After continued discussion and public input, the School Committee voted 5-1 to postpone a vote on the superintendent’s contract extension until after the March 3 election. Snow Dockser was the only dissenting vote,” reported Vendt.
On January 14th, residents of Village Street gathered before the Community Planning and Development Commission in order to express their concerns regarding a proposal for new office space on their street.
“Residents of Village Street expressed their concerns regarding the proposal of Ryan Berry to construct an office for his electric service company in a detached garage at 21-23 Village Street. Berry is seeking a special home occupation permit from the CPDC after making improvements to the structure. Residents expressed concerns regarding parking, on-site employees, traffic in the area, and how the business could affect home values and zoning in the residential neighborhood,” Kevin Vendt reported.
The issue was ultimately moved to the February 10th meeting after it was revealed that Berry did not live within Reading and could not be issued a special permit. The meeting also heard updates and proposals from Stonegate Construction, Hancock Associates, and Infrastructure Holdings.
“Stonegate Construction presented site plan review documents to the CPDC for the former Smith Oil Property at 259-267 Main Street. Speaking for Stonegate, Attorney Josh Latham shared that the plan is for a three-story, 24-unit apartment building with a parking garage underneath. A special permit has already been obtained from the Zoning Board of Appeals for additional parking in a residentially zoned portion of the property. Although the 4.3-acre site contains significant wetlands and river frontage, the proposed building will be massed toward Main Street, distancing it from the wetlands and the adjacent residential neighborhood by over 200 feet” reported Vendt.
Hancock Associates and Infrastructure Holdings gave updates on construction projects, which sought to create new housing in the town of Reading.
“Joe Peznola of Hancock Associates shared that the 42,000 square foot building will have ‘New England-style character’ and will consist of 24 two-bedroom units, each with two parking spaces. Peznola also pointed out that the building is expected to be 37-feet tall, where a 40-foot building is allowed by zoning,” reported Vendt.
Penzola also proposed adding a small rotary behind the building at the request of the fire department to allow for easy access for ambulances.
“Infrastructure Holdings gave an update on plans for a four-house subdivision at 135, 139, & 149 Howard Street. The proposal calls for the construction of a 24-foot wide, 350-foot long road ending in a cul-de-sac. All four of the new houses will comply with all size and setback requirements. Several CPDC members expressed concern over the width of the road, and suggestions were made for a wider right of way on the new street. Abutters continued to offer concern over drainage as the site is near wetland that regularly floods,” reported Vendt.
The public hearing for both proposals were to be continued at the February 10th meeting, and the meeting concluded with the CPDC reviewing state comments on the downtown smart growth district design guidelines.
On January 16th, Town Clerk Laura Gemme announced which candidates were eligible to run for local office in the March 3rd election. The election, which also ran concurrently with the State Presidential Primary, would determine who would fill positions on the Select Board, School Committee, Library Board of Trustees, and RMLD Board of Commissioners.
“There are three candidates for two seats on the Select Board. Incumbent Andrew Friedmann of Hillcrest Road is seeking reelection. Challenging him will be Carlo Bacci of Main Street and Karen Gately Herrick of Dividence Road,” reported Kevin Vendt.
Megan Fidler-Carey, Carla Nazzaro, Erin Gaffen and Shawn Brandt all contended for seats on the new School Committee, with Fidler-Carey, Nazzaro and Gaffen competing for two of the committee’s three-year seats, and Brandt for a one-year seat.
“Nina Pennacchio of Eastway and Monette Dougas Verrier of Kurchian Lane are the candidates for the two seats on the Library Board of Trustees. Both are incumbents. Robert Coulter of Arcadia Avenue and Vivek Soni of Johnson Woods Drive returned nomination papers for the two seats on the RMLD Board of Commissioners. Both candidates would be new to the board. Alan Foulds of Ide Street is running for his 24th term as Town Moderator,” reported Vendt.